NIT Finals: Shock and ‘Aww’

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AP

Alabama’s Charles Hankerson Jr. (2) and Wichita State’s Toure’ Murry reach for a loose ball during the first half of the championship game of the men’s NIT college basketball tournament Thursday, March 31, 2011, at Madison Square Garden in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Laura Owens

NEW YORK | In its second appearance in the NIT championship game, the Alabama Crimson Tide lost to the Wichita State Shockers 66-57 Thursday night in Madison Square Garden. The loss gives Alabama a final record of 25-12 in 2010-2011, while the Shockers improve to 29-8, taking the NIT Championship back to Kansas with them.

“I think the stat sheet really tells the story in terms of how the game was played,” said head coach Anthony Grant. “They were the better team today, so we give them credit, but at the same time it takes nothing away from our young men and what we accomplished over the course of the season.”

The biggest difference-maker in the game was Wichita State’s ability to make 3-pointers. Alabama went 2-for-14 behind the arc, while the Shockers hit 7-of-15. Alabama wasn’t much better shooting from the field for the game, only making 38 percent of field goals. The Shockers hit 50 percent of their field goals for the game.

“I think we just had mental breakdowns, letting them hit threes,” freshman Trevor Releford said. “That’s a game changer right there when you can hit threes.”

Sophomore Tony Mitchell was the leading scorer for the Tide, with 13 points. Junior JaMychal Green, who got in foul trouble and only played 25 minutes, was second on the team with 12. Green and Releford were voted to the NIT All-Tournament Team along with Alec Burks from Colorado and Garrett Stutz from Wichita State.

Throughout the second half, Alabama’s frustration became apparent as the team picked up five fouls within the span of roughly five minutes. Green and Hillman each picked up their fourth personal fouls within 20 seconds of each other, and both had to take a seat. Mitchell also picked up a fourth foul late in the game.

Alabama’s first half was a sloppy one, in which the Tide committed eight turnovers, which Wichita State converted into nine points. Alabama was able to force 10 Shocker turnovers but only turned those into nine points.

“We kind of hurt ourselves in the first half,” Grant said. “We had opportunities in transition or where we forced a turnover and we couldn’t complete plays. We were somewhat anxious from an offensive standpoint, got out of character, did some things offensively that hurt ourselves and allowed them easy baskets. So we had some breakdowns from that standpoint.”

Wichita State led by three at halftime, 37-34. Throughout the half, the lead changed seven times, and the game was tied four times. Alabama’s three big scorers, Green, Mitchell and Releford, combined to make up 27 of the Tide’s 34 points.

In the first half at the free throw line, both teams were 100 percent, but Alabama only shot five free throws, whereas the Shockers had nine. Both teams shot 50 percent from the field too, with the Tide going 14-for-28, while the Shockers went 13-for-26.

Though the season didn’t end in a championship, Grant said that didn’t take away from what the team was able to accomplish this season.

“We grew, and we learned over the course of the year, and as a basketball team, we got better,” Grant said. “As a coach, that’s really what you want to be able to do. We had some things this year that we had to overcome. A lot of it was ourselves. I think over the course of the year, I was able to grow as a coach, and I think our players grew.”